Why do we get so interested in the conflicts of others? There is a viral email doing the rounds from a potential mother-in-law to her potential daughter-in-law. It makes for excruciating but fascinating reading. It is a car-crash of an email for both sender and receiver.
But what fascinates me more is how bad we are at dealing with conflict. Let us assume that neither side in the dispute in case is awful. Let’s assume that the prospective daughter-in-law managed to unwittingly upset her mother-in-law. Let’s assume that the mother-in-law was deeply upset and didn’t know how to deal with the situation.
But most of us have similar stories (maybe not as extreme) but never-the-less real awful stories where we have been badly hurt by others. Where what has been said has led to deep anger and hurt.
So how should we deal with these situations?
My first piece of advise would be to try not to get into the dreadful situation in the first place.
Well, don’t do conflict over email (or letter either for that matter). Email is remote. It allows for views to be expressed without the give and take of voice and facial expressions. I remember having a “flame war” with the head of development in my previous employment. Email followed email to each other. The circulation list got larger and larger. We worked on the same floor. Eventually the President of the company intervened and told us to speak together and to stop being so stupid. It worked. Sometimes these email flame wars can lead to such entrenched views that there is no way that we can back down without loss of face.
If you have to write an email don’t do it until you are calm. Sleep on it. Every time I reply to a “seemingly” angry email on the same day disaster strikes! I tend to read them in the worst possible light and respond accordingly.
Not good at all.
Remember too that once you have sent an email that you no longer have control of it.
Assume that anyone could read it.
Anyone at all.
That also applies to someone receiving the email and sending it to friends – as in this case – you lose control of it.
In this case how on earth will they be able to speak with each other? How on earth will the situation be recovered? It seems hard and even more so given the public nature of the situation.
What about the two men in this situation? Caught in the middle of this.
A phrase that resonated with me recently was “what you don’t say runs you”. In other words if you feel unable to tell someone something that riles you it will mess with you and dominate you. So how can you deal with this situation in a positive way? Well my advice (and it would be good to hear others views) would be:
Think carefully about raising an issue and make sure that you can calmly consider it first.
Don’t react on the spur of the moment. As the book of proverbs says:
Those with good sense are slow to anger Prov.19.11
Look to yourself first and see whether there is anything that you need to deal with in your own attitude to it before tackling the person.
Separate out the issues. The problem is often the latest of a series of “offences” and that this one tipped you over the edge. Keep to discussing an issue and don’t let yourself be side-tracked. But also don’t let it develop into a wide-ranging attack – that becomes, like this case, too damaging.
Don’t attack the person or someone that they love. Talk about how the behaviour made you feel and the impact of the behaviour on you or others.
Try to find things to affirm them in although don’t use a “but” in there. For instance telling them how good they are at some things BUT then saying something is awful means that the person will never hear the positive. A “but” in a sentence negates what went before the “but”. Separate them out. Tell them the things that are positive. Then make sure that they have heard that. Then raise the issue maybe with a question – “I was just wondering what you meant when you said…..?” or similar. Questions extract information and maybe some understanding of what they may be feeling. Within the context of those questions we can then ask questions of how something may have made you feel.
I remember at theological college having a dispute with my summer placement incumbent. Who was determined to mis-represent me. When I tried tackling him I got nowhere. It was only when I asked questions that he started processing what I was saying.
Good conflict can help people grow in understanding and regard for one another. Bad conflict often leads to alienation and separation. The taking of sides and long-lasting damage.
Something like the conflict described in most papers today will probably require mediation to get anywhere. It may well be too late already. Or there will be silence between the parties.
As the father of the bride-to-be is quoted as saying
’I don’t care if she apologises. You can’t take back what has been said once it’s said.
That is the point. Once things have been said it is more difficult to unravel things and to get to a point of forgiveness.
It is possible. It requires openness and honesty and a preparedness, by both parties, to want reconciliation.
So, what are your tips to help you when there is a conflict?